(Note: My editor is engaged in a three day workshop and unavailable. Reader beware)
I’ve been struggling with ways to get away from political polarization that makes it all but impossible to move the country forward on issues most agree are of national importance. It begins, I suppose, with recognition that recalcitrants, primarily but not exclusively on the GOP side, will not be moved. They entered the political arena to shut it down, and have no interest in negotiating. There are only two ways around them: defeat at the polls, and modest rule changes prohibiting small groups of members from stopping the entire legislative process.
It’s a sad starting point. They represent a portion of the voting public that believes government is, ipso facto, the enemy of their individual right to live as they please in their own self interest. It’s a curious ideology. On the one hand, it depends on government to define the rights they claim as their own. On the other hand, our particular from of republican (representative) democracy is designed to secure rights within the context of the greater good of the community as a whole. The greater good is achieved through collective policies to which each citizen is required to subscribe if they want to continue being citizens. It is only within a community dedicated to the greater good that extreme individualism can exist. Without community organized for the greater good, extreme individualism is mere savage brutality. Its relationship with community is more parasitic than symbiotic, but trying to explain that to right wing libertarians is next to impossible.
So let us lay them aside and go on. The goal is to move away from political polarization toward what? Toward agreement on reasonable ways to address problems that are agreed to be problems requiring some form of federal response. Among the more obvious are infrastructure, health care, and restoration of cooperative international relations.
Infrastructure is more complex than it sounds, and includes restoration of the Interstate and U.S. highway systems, rural broadband, electrical grid security, the Post Office, high speed rail, and the government’s own computer systems. It will require decades of work, billions of dollars, and negotiated public-private partnerships. It will also generate a new demand for skilled labor in high paying jobs.
The need for a national health care system has been well known since the mid twentieth century. Nostalgia for old time family doctors and fear of socialized medicine has hobbled progress, as has lobbying from insurance companies that make enormous profits off health care. The need has often been debated. Obama Care was a small step forward, but hotly opposed even as the public took to it with enthusiasm. However, the COVID pandemic has made the urgency of a national system more obvious, even to conservatives. The public is increasingly aware that the patchwork we now have is no system at all. Private insurance is expensive and covers as little as it can get away with. Better, more affordable insurance linked to employment is available to some, but benefits are unpredictable from one employer to another, and coverage ceases when employment ceases. Some union and public employment coverage is excellent, but unevenly available. Many are left stranded with Medicaid taken by only some providers, or hospital financed welfare that may or may not be available. Rural health care may not be available at all, is always limited, and sometimes rationed. Many are saddled with enormous health care debt they can never repay. Hospital billings are grossly inflated, and some patients are charged more than others. In short, it’s a costly mess, the most costly among all industrialized nations. It remains to be seen whether expansion of the Affordable Care Act or some sort of Medicare-for-All is the answer, but there needs to be an answer, and soon. Every person living in the United States needs quality, affordable health care if our economic future is to be secured.
Globalization is not going away, but it is rapidly changing. It’s more clear that fragile global supply chains can be easily broken by diplomatic estrangement, corporate misfeasance, military posturing, disease, and corruption of the internet. National security has taken on new dimensions that move toward higher levels of strategic self sufficiency while relying on robust export markets. Cooperative international relationships are essential to making it work, but America’s credibility in the community of nations has been shredded. Allies of long standing can no longer trust us, and have no respect for our national leadership. Dictators of nations at odds with American interests are delighted with their new found favor, while ridiculing the president who fawns over them. It’s one thing to be disrespected and distrusted, it’s another thing to be ridiculed and pitied. Unified congressional leadership supporting a new administration can, I think, restore solid international working relationships, and fashion legislation necessary to securing our best trading interests with cooperative foreign partners. It will benefit domestic manufacturing, agricultural exports, and consumer choices.
Negotiated progress on these three fronts by congressional leadership willing to agree they are problems in need of workable solutions can bring together liberals and conservatives who are not entrenched in tactics that don’t allow flexibility. Workable solutions are never perfect, never end the need for yet more to be done, and are never fully satisfying to any party. But they work, and are improvements over the status quo. Political leaders can still go before the public to perform their self serving fulminations, but the nation will know that life has been made better, and there is hope for better yet to come.